LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 93
Report: Cristina Viturro
Photos: Margarita Fractman y Nacho Calonge
SAN CARLOS DE BARILOCHE
It started with the 20th century on the southern shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, and its official foundation by Carlos Wiederhold dates from 1902. He chose an exceptionally beautiful spot, framed by the mountains and that immense and tortuous lake.
And, in keeping with the surroundings, the Villa itself was designed in a combination of wood and stone, with simple V-shaped slate roofs, and orderly and colorful gardens. Although it is true that it was modeled on Alpine resorts, the talented Alejandro Bustillo (see Huellas) gave it un unmistakably solid character of its own.
The most eloquent example of this, for those who have not yet seen it, is that hub called the Civic Center, that in fact is not centrally placed in the urban design, but rather some way off, almost on the lake. However, it fulfils the role admirably: no visitor to Bariloche fails to start his or her tour at this point. The group of buildings typical of Bustillo's style includes the Municipality, the Municipal Tourism Secretariat, the Dr. Francisco P Moreno Patagonian Museum and, a little further away, the National Parks building.
If the snow is what attracts tourists in winter, the rest of the year there is plenty to attract those who do not ski, and there are thousands of them also. These are the trekkers, the mountain climbers, the cyclists, the yachters, the fishermen, or simply those who stroll open-mouthed admiring the endless flowers and woods wherever one goes.
No one remains impassive to beauty, and everyone has a right to admire it, enjoy it and immortalize it in a split-second snapshot. Thus, despite the student hordes that interrupt the peace and quiet of this pre-Cordilleran destination in the July-October period, and despite the "caravans of intercity buses loaded with Napoleonic armies of tourists, Bariloche lies there waiting, a family-rated little "piece of Eden".
Its hotel infrastructure is complete, offering something for all tastes and budgets, for those who want to use the city as a base for touring the surroundings, or vice-versa. We compromised, and did a bit of each. First, we lodged at the famous Bariloche 5-star hotel, the Panamericano. Brazilians -and Argentines too for that matter- swoon over its enormous guestrooms and the pool with its famous view on Nahuel Huapi. It was a natural choice, due to its location, facilities and good service.
Having satisfied our curiosity about the chocolates and handicrafts, toured the shopping galleries, cafes, bars and restaurants and made a clean sweep of Avenida Bustillo (see Foot-tour chart), we upped camp for the outskirts of town. The "other" Bariloche provided us with different experiences.
Lavender and other delicacies are provided by Lidia Crusizio, the owner of Meli-hue, a synonym for Bariloche lavender. In her house on Lake Moreno not only can one admire a spectacular landscape, one can also have a delicious tea and obtain every product made with Lavandula officinalis, for the purpose of perfuming, sedating, calming and refreshing people, or even repelling moths! In that same quiet and easygoing household, Lidia receives guests with a Bed & Breakfast regime. And she also tells a story that began 14 years ago, when she started her lavender business, and people commented "what a nice place this is for a cup of tea".
That is how the tea idea started. So then the guests upped the stakes and suggested "why don't you let us spend the night here?" So Lidia arranged two suites on the first floor. One of them, the one that has a view on Western Moreno Lake, is a room with a king-size bed, private bathroom and a balcony with a superb view.
The other suite consists of two bedrooms (a single and one with two beds) that share a bathroom and a sitting room, and is only used for parties traveling together. The place is ideal for couples or small groups, but they don't receive children because the garden is unsuitable for them. Lidia makes breakfast to guests' order, and if required will also provide dinner, except in January and February.
During these months when the lavender is flowering, the house fills with visitors, so the tea room works every day.
Her visitors' book is full of praise for two aspects, most of it necessarily refers to the landscape, but also there are strong words of praise for the hospitality showered on guests by Lidia and her son Claudio, the chance recreational organizer appointed by the guests themselves.
On a memorable occasion, some French guests saw him go by, fishing rod in hand, ready for a fishing trip. Their expressions of longing were so eloquent, that Claudio promptly invited them to accompany him on the following day. The results were also memorable: they left at eight in the morning and returned at ten p.m., after having made 14 catches and the corresponding returns, taken photos of the monster trout, walked through the woods and eaten the appetizers that Claudio, as a good host, had thoughtfully provided.
There was only one problem: Claudio had not figured out a appropriate charge for this service - he left it to the goodwill of his guest, who surprised him with their generosity. From that time on, he began to offer boat excursions on the lake to his guests, but still doesn't know how much to charge them.
The garden has a view on Mt Tronador. Until 23 years ago, Karin Winzer had lived in the Federal District of Mexico City with her husband and children. At that time, they paid a visit to Bariloche, where he (of mixed Argentine and German stock) had a plot of land.
They arrived at the spot now occupied by Bellevue and then Karin heard him ask the fateful question "would you like to live here?". Some time after she gave her affirmative answer, the family move was made... And thus began the tradition of tea service facing the Morenito, a dreamlike spot.
Karin, who is now a widow, every morning bakes the fresh batch of cakes she will serve in the afternoon.
These come in a wide variety and in the same high quality that she has maintained since 1982, making her the local unbeatable "benchmark" tea purveyor. The idea of offering lodging came much later, once her children had grown up and left home.
Next to the tea house there is an apartment -obviously with its own entrance- consisting of a roomy bedroom, a private bathroom and a kitchenette; the last explains that the offer of Bed no longer includes Breakfast, since guests can now prepare their own. The room has two large beds, joined together and covered with eiderdown quilts. It also has a fixed window that affords an incredible view on the garden, with the lake and Cerro Lopez in the background.
Karin is rightly proud of her garden, full of rhododendrons and tulips. It ends on a beach on the lakeshore that is perfect for picnicking and kayaking. However, the nicest thing is the view: "If it is a clear day, you can see Mt. Tronador from here", she says.
Bellevue is open all year round, except in June, when "her ladyship" takes a holiday and is sorely missed by everybody; not only she is missed - so is the tea house and its attentive staff.
Valle Encantado, 62 km from Bariloche, offers a good chance to do a demanding pedal tour: covering around 40 km along rural roads that are practically deserted through the undulating territory of the steppe. The Patagonia Mountains offer starts near Villa Llanquin, where one has to cross the Limay river in a rope-pulled raft, ending in a bridge over the Pichileufu river. Some 4WD support vehicles ease the most difficult stages of the tour. The circuit crosses canyons and ranch-house posts, the Peumayen cooperative and its sheep corrals, and includes lunch in a tree-filled oasis.
Machi Gonzalez Benzano is one of the decorators of the Llao Llao Hotel and she has lived 15 years in Bariloche. She lives with her son Gonzalo in a farm at Km 20 of Bustillo, on Campanario Bay, just behind Los Juncos, the inn that they have just inaugurated, after recycling it and getting it ready to receive guests again. In fact, the house was built as a hostelry in 1946, and worked as one until a few years ago.
The cypress wood floors are original, as also the bathroom installations, that retain the original design. The inn has only six rooms, all with a private bathroom: in some cases, the washbasin is within the bedroom itself.
The rooms are comfortable, and are preciously decorated with antique and recycled furniture (Machi's expert hand and that of her partner Marta Peirano can be seen here) and the details of good taste and comfort are everywhere to be seen: cushy sommiers (box springs), eiderdown quilts, handloom bedcovers made in Jujuy by La Bussaie, and decorated doors.
In the great room on the first floor breakfast is served; as with the rest of the kitchen specialties, it is handled by Gonzalo, who uses the vegetables and other inputs from the vegetable garden. He also makes home-made bread, and a delicious tart of pine seeds and honey. In summer, the smallest guests will enjoy a visit to the mini-farm to see the vegetable plots, ducks, sheep and other animals.
Tea with herbs
Dr. Eduardo Rapoport is a biologist, a professor of the University of Comahue and a researcher at Conicet. Barbara Drausal, an English language translator, is his wife, co-researcher and partner in this venture that was born many years ago, when Eduardo began to research survival strategies among the different vegetable species, among them the (improperly called) weeds..
Contrarily to the rest of the world that makes fruitless efforts at exterminating them, Dr. Rapoport through his research showed not only that a large number of them are edible, but also that they are full of nutrients and very tasty.
The results of his research figure on the pages of Plantas nativas comestibles de la Patagonia andina y Plantas exoticas comestibles de la Patagonia andina (Edible Native Plants of Andean Patagonia and Edibole Exotic Plants of Andean Patagonia), published together with Ana Ladio and Eduardo Sanz.
Richard Oyarzun (the ex-chef of Chachao Bistro) and Martin Molteni (the chef at Tunquelen), make a habit of consulting him when they add "weeds" to their concoctions.
This couple of "many talents" -he is also a sculptor, and she is a painter- decided to open the doors of their house to small groups, the idea being that Eduardo give talks on edible plants, and then share a tea with his guests in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.
Sailing on the Yurkal
The Yurkal is a motor-sailing boat, a 40-foot spray, designed by Bruce Roberts and built by "Pato" Garcia Susini, after buying the construction plans on Internet and suffering scathing comments from friends and acquaintances for three years, until last year's launching.
The vessel is a unique one: its interior decoration, of the loft type, with period chairs, a bookcase and desk, wooden floors and kilim tapestries, is the work of Marta Peirano, Pato's wife, co-decorator of the Llao Llao hotel and the owner of the Kandahar restaurant.
Seldom will one see a more unconventional or more comfortable ship. These also are the words that most aptly describe the adventure trips one will be able to take on board the vessel this summer. Pato charters it without a crew only to those who have sailing experience and (naturally) a pilot's license. Otherwise, he himself takes over the helm.
In the Encantado Valley
One of the first descriptions we have of the Limay River and surrounding landscape comes from its 1863 explorer, Chilean Guillermo Cox, who recorded it in his work "Viaje en las regiones septentrionales de la Patagonia" (sic) (A Trip to the Northern Areas of Patagonia).
This area, forming part of what is called and considered the "steppe", is ideal for hiking, adventure excursions, horse-trekking, fishing trips, bird watching, cycling, and even scuba diving. Among the most attractive options is spending a day in Encantado Valley (Enchanted Valley), an estancia that is named after the area. To get there, one has to cross the transparent waters of the Limay, that are placid in midsummer.
The excursion can be a full day or half a day, and include walking up to the strange formations of volcanic rock that are typical of the area, seeing the grottoes once occupied by the native Indians (some of them containing rock paintings) and climbing up to the Condor observation post (the specimens bred in the Buenos Aires Zoo were set free in this area and are periodically monitored) to obtain some incredible views of a definitely unique landscape.
The steppe is very hot in summer and the trip is interrupted at midday to prepare a barbeque and then rest in the shadow of the trees. The afternoon's activity may consist of fishing, taking a dip in the river, or going riding on the plains.